To my friend and blog followers –
Some of you already know that I’ve felt called by God to assemble some of my recent writings and publish them as my second book. The working title is Church Burning.
This is a play on words, of course, with multiple meanings. In the Bible, fire is used metaphorically for several clear purposes. On the bad side, it is used by God to judge and punish. On the good side, it is used to purify and motivate.
There is no doubt God wants to bring a fire to His Church. If we are doing things the way He intends, we should welcome this, like the disciples at Pentecost. If we are not, we should dread it.
If you think “church” is a place to go or a thing to do — a building, an organizational structure, a set of teaching and traditions, or an event — then Church Burning may well conjure terrible images in your mind. If you know Church as the intimate fellowship of God’s sons and daughters on earth, then you probably see Church Burning as a glorious thing.
I said that Church Burning is the working title. I’m still not quite convinced, but the more I chew on it, the more I like it. It seems sizzling enough to sell books and yet multi-faceted enough to make people think, but I reserve the right to be wrong about that. I’d value your feedback. Do you like it? Would you pick up, buy and read a book with that title? Or is it so in-your-face that it’ll turn off the average Joe Christian? If the people that most need to read it are repulsed by the title, that’s bad. Please leave a comment or drop me a note and let me know what you think.
ALSO, below is what I’ve written as a draft of the first chapter. My goal is to clearly express my heart — that I am not angry, hostile, or bitter, as so many “church” critics come across — so that the reader will be more prone to seriously consider the things I write.
Thank you for all your comments and feedback over the past several months. I appreciate your prayers as I work to bring this project to completion.
First chapter –
Talk about kicking a hornets’ nest! Writing a critical book about modern churchianity is probably not the best way to go about winning friends and influencing people, but I believe somebody has to do it.
Despite the intentionally controversial title (gotta sell books, you know – and it has multiple meanings, many of them positive), I’ve done my very best to approach this topic with tenderness and candor.
I’ve found there are generally three groups of people who are eager to discuss the problems with “church” today.
First are those who are hostile to our faith and are quick to pounce on and propagate anything they think will get us to question our beliefs. Many of these are deeply wounded folks who come from a “church” background, and who rejected God when they rejected the institutions we’ve build in His name. (Sadly, these formerly-churched people seem more numerous and harder to reach with the truth than the un-churched, which I think is something we must address.)
Second are those who have been wounded by “church” politics, legalism, hypocrisy and religiosity, and yet who still hold on to their faith, and to the often vague hope that there is a better way. These people seem to talk about “church” like a cheated-on wife talks about her ex-husband; they feel betrayed by someone they love.
Both of the above categories of “church” critics often put their fingers on some very real and important issues, but they tend to communicate their points with bitterness and hostility, as if they are trying to win people over to their side of a conflict. As a result, their hard-learned lessons often are lost on those who most need to hear them, who can do something to help fix the problems. While their ranting may draw a flock of birds of the same feather, it tends to compel their “church”-bound brethren to defensiveness, and not much good results.
There is a third group, however, and that is forward-thinking Christians who love God’s Church, seek truth and know there is a better way. These folks have dug into the roots and fruits of our modern “church” system, and into the original intent of our Father, and found that we are terribly missing the mark. Theirs is constructive criticism, for the purpose of calling God’s people to a higher, better, and more God-pleasing express of Church.
Because their intended audience has been bombarded by hostile complaints from both wounded brethren and opponents of the faith, and because the kernels of their messages are often quite similar to those the bitter critics, this third group can have a very tough time getting their points across. Theirs is a challenging calling. I know, because I fall into this third group.
You need to know that I thank God for my mainline, denominational, liturgical upbringing. I have fond memories of Sunday School classes, stirring sermons, inspirational music, fun fellowship, and even service on various committees. Some of my best friends over the years have been pastors, and I nearly went to the seminary to join their ranks. Sure, as I grew up and my horizons broadened, I began to question some things about “church,” and to seek to make improvements from within, but it was always “by the rules” and with deep respect for the institution and the other people involved. I do not consider myself wounded, bitter, or hostile toward churchianity in the least.
But I must tell you, as I have dug into the truth of God’s will for His sons and daughters on earth, and the true potential for His Church, something has changed in me over the years. I no longer feel called to work entirely from within the four walls of the “church.” While I still have love and respect for the people, my respect for the institutions themselves has greatly diminished. I’m just being honest here.
I want to ask you a favor as you dig into this book. Will you please give me some grace, and approach it with an open mind? I know these are sensitive issues, and we can easily become quite emotional, defensive and hostile when we discuss them. We can also jump to conclusions about the other person’s motives. I am asking you to accept that my heart is in the right place here, and I am only seeking to call God’s people to the very best. My goal is to build up, not tear down (although a little constructive demolition is necessary in any remodeling job).
And yet, I am only human, too. Maybe I have been a little wounded and not fully healed, and maybe it does come through a little at places. I don’t think that’s the case, it’s sure not my intention, and I’ve done my best to write with sensitivity and grace. But if anything I write seems bitter in any way, please forgive me, and try to look through it to the heart of what I’m saying. My writing style is often passionate, colorful and to-the-point; please don’t confuse passion and righteous frustration with hostility.
Anyway, just because someone is wounded doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, it just means they’ve experienced something that hurt them very deeply. We should not write off the words of the wounded; rather, we should have compassion for them. If elements of our “church” are hurting people deeply, then we need to bring them to light, however hard that may be, don’t you think?
As God has led me deeper into His Word, and into a greater understanding of The Way that He desires for us to come together as the Body, I’ve taken that understanding and laid it side by side with what I’ve personally experienced, observed and learned about churchianity. At times, this journey of discovery has been like watching a movie, where sometimes you want to laugh, sometimes you want to cry, and sometimes you want to yell at the person on screen. Writing this book has been a very personal and emotional journey, and at various points its content reflects all of these emotions.
This stuff is very important to me, and try as I might I simply cannot approach this topic as a scientific, emotionless observer sitting on the sidelines. Serving God by advancing His Kingdom and building up His people is my deepest passion. I pray that is the common ground on which you approach my writing.
There’s one more thing you should know before you jump off into the rest of this book. I wrote this over the course of about a year, and for most of the time I didn’t even realize I was writing a book. Rather, I was simply keeping notes of my observations, insights and experiences. It was only later that I felt the Lord’s call to pull it all together into one package. As a result, it’s more of a diary than a narrative, and like any diary, you will see a variety of emotions expressed.
There are certainly consistent threads and overarching themes throughout, but each chapter is also something of a stand-alone essay. This book is not a profound theological research volume, but rather a collection of thoughts, impressions and revelations I’ve had as I’ve wrestled with this topic in my own life. If there are chunks of it you simply can’t abide, that’s fine. I’m not trying to sell you anything. But I hope you’ll keep going anyway, because you may just find a few nuggets along the way that will revitalize your faith, bring you closer to the Father, and maybe even spark a healthy dialogue in your own congregation. If this happens, I’ll consider it a success.
The Lord woke me up at 4 a.m. the other day and showed me a vision of how the enemy can gain a foothold in our lives.
I had been in intense prayer for quite some time for a dear friend of mine, a strong man of God, who is currently being yanked all around by the enemy. It’s like the devil has a hook deep into him and is dragging him through all sorts of heartache. From the outside looking in, it’s clear as day what’s happening. But this guy won’t receive loving input or correction, and my soul is in anguish for him. It’s like this man, who is otherwise blessed with enormous spiritual clarity, has a gaping blind spot, in which the enemy has had free reign to operate.
My prayers have been not only for this fellow’s deliverance, but also for insight into this phenomenon. If a man as spiritually seasoned as my friend is susceptible to giving the enemy such a blatant foothold, then I know I am, too. And I don’t want that in my life!
The vision the Lord showed me was, like most things He shows us, quite simple on the surface, but the more I dig into it, the deeper it gets. It directly answers the question of what’s happening to this fellow, how it can happen to any of us, how we can help each other when it does happen, and how we can keep it from happening in the first place.
What I saw was a robber busting into a bank and going directly to the surveillance camera, where he whipped out a can of spray paint and darkened the lens. After that, he had free run of the place.
As I dug into this vision, numerous Bible verses of “eyes to see” and being spiritually “blinded” came to mind. As I looked them up, I realized this vision unlocked for me the meaning of a very consistent theme in the New Testament.
Here’s how I’ve come to understand it. As followers of Jesus Christ, we each have a deposit of the Holy Spirit living in us. One of the benefits of the Spirit living in us is that He gives us a crystal clear, 360-degree spiritual surveillance system. Only this surveillance system is in our hearts, and in our natural state it is surrounded by opaque flesh. The only way we can see beyond it, to make full use of this system, is to do as the Bible instructs and “crucify” our flesh. When we do that, the flesh falls out of our field of view and the eyes of our hearts can see clearly. Then we can identify and avoid the work of the enemy when he comes close. When we are truly, fully “dead to self” – and “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” – then we can accurately perceive all of the enemy’s schemes.
Because of this, like that bank robber, the enemy’s first goal in attacking us is to block out as much of that surveillance system as he can. Instead of spray paint, however, the enemy aims to re-animate our flesh. This is what he seeks to do when he dangles temptations in front of us; it’s just like the bank robber spray painting over the surveillance camera. When the enemy can coax us into bringing a portion of our flesh back to life, this creates a blind spot in which he can freely operate. Always ambitious and opportunistic, when he can do this, our enemy will then make full use of his hidden access to our lives, and wreak as much havoc and destruction as he can, in us and through us.
Now, there are multitudes of people out there who are one hundred percent spiritually blind. They live in darkness. The enemy has no problem pushing them around, and he certainly uses them to advance the kingdom of darkness. But these people, ultimately, are not the ones he pursues most fervently. The high value targets, the ones on Hell’s Most Wanted list, are the most mature believers. These are the ones who have access and influence in the Kingdom of God. When the enemy can gain a foothold in the life of a long-time believer, he can tag along with them into all sorts of circles where he’d never be welcome in his own right, and you better believe that he will use that to his full advantage.
If any of us, even the most advanced and mature Kingdom warrior, believes he is immune to this, he’s already a victim of it, because his pride has become a blind spot. The Bible is full of warnings about wolves in sheep’s clothing, and devils masquerading as angels of light. God implores us all to always be self-controlled and alert. While we’re here on earth, we are susceptible to this tactic, and we should all take heed.
It’s been said that our biggest strength can also be our biggest weakness. I didn’t fully understand that until I saw this vision. You see, where we know we’re weak, we tend to be the most vigilant. But we can be lulled into not really paying attention to our “strong” points, and this can give the enemy room to work.
In our “strength” – where we’re most naturally gifted – it is quite easy for us to let our flesh come back to life and not even realize it. Whether it’s pride, or taking our “strength” for granted, or falling into patterns and habits, or dismissing loving correction from people who are not as gifted in that area, it seems the enemy can have an easy time getting that portion of our flesh re-animated, and when he does, he then has free room to function in our lives. He quite literally uses our greatest strength against us, to advance his own ends.
This is what happened to my good friend. He’s a real hero of mine, having spent several decades on the front line of the Kingdom – living on faith and fighting the good fight. All along, he has relied on God to provide for his needs, and the Lord has never let him down.
Then along came an agent of the enemy, masquerading as an “angel of light” (messenger of elucidating information, literally), and he knew just how to spray paint over that part of my friend’s spiritual surveillance system. He did it by posing as someone the Lord sent to finally reward my friend for all his years of day-by-day, hand-to-mouth living. By talking the talk of a “fellow minister,” flashing wads of $100 bills, and making promises of enormous generosity “as soon as this big business deal comes through,” this fellow appeared to my friend as the answer to decades of prayer. Finally, his ship was going to come in, thank God!
My friend’s greatest gift is his absolute faith in God. And yet the enemy came right into the middle of that gift, coaxed a small bit of flesh back to life, and hid right behind it. My friend’s strong faith became his greatest weakness – to the extent that when people questioned the motives of this wolf in sheep’s clothing, even old friends – he would shut them off as if they were questioning God Himself; the enemy caused him to confuse his belief in this fellow for his faith in God the Provider.
The results have been catastrophic. This fellow ended up being a high-level conman of the worst kind, one posing as a Christian minister. He has been arrested by the civil authorities and is being brought to justice. But before the authorities put a stop to his scam, he had gained access to a number of prominent and wealthy people — under the covering of my friend – and ended up ripping them off for an enormous amount of money.
Lots of people lost money in this guy’s web of deceit. Sadly, however, it looks like my friend may be the biggest victim of them all. While the other victims only lost money, my friend’s hard-earned esteem is being trashed – and it’s easier to get back stolen money than a squandered reputation.
The enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy, and all it takes is one small foothold, one little piece of living flesh to hide behind.
This whole episode has caused me to look at my own life, and led me to be doubly vigilant to “die daily” as Paul did. Wherever even a speck of my flesh is alive, I wish to crucify it with Christ, as painful as that can be. This isn’t just a good idea or a “religious” concept for me anymore. It is life or death.
This is all the more reason for us to join together in full fellowship according to The Way of Christ. When we are stuck in a “church” system that has threads of individuality, competition, popularity, or positional authority woven in, we can easily be led to shut off the words of correction offered by others, even our closest friends.
But we need each other, like a herd of buffalo circling around their young to protect them from a prowling lion, and God knows this. That’s why His Way calls for us to share all things in common and truly knit together as the Body. When we do this, we can watch out for each other – and truly receive the rebuke and correction that is often necessary for each and every one of us to keep our surveillance systems clear. Outside of the Way, we are in harm’s way.
We do have a real enemy, and he does come to steal, kill and destroy. While we are on this earth, in these jars of clay, none of us is immune. Be self-controlled and alert.
He who has eyes to see, let him see…
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Back in the late 1960s, three US servicemen commandeered a massive piece of very expensive government equipment and took it for a joyride. After only a few minutes, they had succeeded in destroying the majority of it. Even so, they successfully made it away from the heavily-guarded compound and outside the reach of authorities.
Eight days later, after a massive effort to track their location, when government agents finally caught up with the three, they had utterly ruined the last bit of equipment and had to be rescued by the US Navy. Nothing was left to show for their big adventure but a nearly $2 Billion bill to the US government (in today’s dollars), a few bits of unusable equipment strewn in their path, and far-out stories of a wild ride.
Sounds like the plotline for the next “Hangover” movie, doesn’t it? What do you think happened to these three thrill seekers?
Would you be surprised if I told you they ended up lionized as some of the greatest heroes of all time, and their adventure inspired a generation?
That might make sense if I gave you two more bits of information: The equipment they destroyed was a Saturn V rocket, and their joyride was the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
There’s a vital spiritual lesson here.
Before the launch, these three men were sitting on top and in control of the world’s most sophisticated asset, built at a cost of millions of man hours and billions of dollars. They had worked tirelessly and played their cards right for their entire careers to get to this point, where they were respected as the elite of the elite and in the center of international media attention.
And then came the moment when they had to make the conscious choice to push the launch button. They knew that single decision would destroy the rocket that carried them, use up every last drop of their fuel, put their very lives in jeopardy and – if they survived – inevitably leave them stranded and helpless in the middle of a vast ocean. All to plant a flag on a far-away rock.
When God calls us to do something, this is what He is asking, and it is a conscious choice we must make. For the astronauts, they had the full support of the US government behind them and they understood the Big Picture purpose of it all, so I’m sure they didn’t hesitate to launch when it was time. For us, all we have behind us is an invisible God and promises of eternity, and we often lose sight of the Big Picture. As a result, I’m ashamed to admit, we often don’t push the launch button when called upon.
Have you ever noticed that it’s the young, relatively inexperienced entrepreneurs who seem to hit all the home runs in business? Why is this?
I’m beginning to see that there’s a negative, worldly version of “wisdom” that can hold back the most capable of us.
When a young person sees a vision, he sees nothing but the potential, whereas older ones often see nothing but risk.
Sadly, the folks who have been around the block a few times – the ones who have learned the most, and in theory are the most capable – often fail to answer the door when opportunity knocks. We can let our own idea of “wisdom” – we may call it “experience,” “due diligence,” or “caution” – drown out the call of God. Now, there’s nothing wrong with real wisdom, but fact is this thought process is often really a cloak for, “I’m wounded, jaded, tired, prideful, afraid, and/or I have too much to lose.” When this happens, we are allowing all the good aspects of our life experiences to be negated by the bad ones. I admit, I’ve fallen into this trap.
Imagine how Moses must have felt after his first encounter with Pharoah after returning from the wilderness. “Let my people go,” he’d said. Pharoah’s response was not only “heck no,” but he harshly added to the forced labor of the Israelites, who of course loudly complained to Moses.
So here’s this 80-year old man who had once again failed. I’m sure there was a part of him screaming to himself, “I knew it! Last time I tried to help these people, I lost my place in the palace and ended up spending forty years in the wilderness. Now I’ve screwed it up again!”
And then guess what God did? He told Moses to go back to Pharaoh and try again. When that failed, He did it again … and again … and again … and again. Nine times in a row, God called Moses to failure, and each and every time it made matters worse for himself and his people.
Thank God Moses didn’t refuse to hit the launch button the tenth time. Had he let his “wisdom” get in the way … well, who knows how many more generations of Israelites would have lived in slavery?
The early apostles didn’t hesitate to lay down their nets and follow Christ, and they eventually lost everything as a result. Think they’d do it again if they had the chance? Or, do you think their “due diligence” would lead them to make another choice? (“This fishing business isn’t so bad after all! We should just make a lot of money and give it to the ones on the front lines…”)
Paul was influential and upwardly mobile in the Jewish hierarchy when Christ called him. He could have refused the call, and may well have ended up as High Priest. Instead, he didn’t let his “wisdom” hold him back.
Think of all the towns where he ended up beaten or imprisoned, only to launch off to the next town and start over again, and again, and again. He could have given up at any time and retired to Tarsus as a successful tentmaker. But he lived all-in, and never looked back.
Paul knew that the things we build on this earth will all burn someday, and he knew that the trials we face exist to build our character and faith, and so – despite all the times he was broken and hurt – he was not afraid of being broke or hurt again.
The only things we can take from this world to the next are the character, people and relationships that we build in Christ. God gives us everything else – wealth, fame, followers, facilities, reputation, etc. – for this one purpose: To serve as our own Saturn V rocket, to launch us to new places to plant the flag of His Kingdom.
So you’re one of the elite. So you’re at the top of it all, and the whole world is watching. Guess what? You can’t take it with you!
You have a choice, and if you’re afraid to push the button, and put it all on the line, every time God calls, He will eventually pry you from the command module and put in a new crew who will use it for His purposes.
God wants to plant His flag somewhere new. He’s calling you to do it.
Are you willing? Or, like the rich young ruler, will you refuse?
I’m not telling you to abandon wisdom. Instead, I’m imploring you to reject the false “wisdom” of the world that keeps able men and women bound up in the prison of “risk aversion.” I’m encouraging you not to lean on your own understanding. Don’t let the fear of trouble or persecution or failure, or the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches, hold you back from hearing the Lord’s call and pushing the launch button when it’s time.
Yes, God tells us to count the cost, and that’s like a “due diligence” of sorts. But He also tells us not to worry about tomorrow, or what we will eat, drink or wear. As Christ said it, such worry is the opposite of seeking the Kingdom. “Counting the cost,” as He means it, is simply being conscious of the quantity of poker chips you have, and then pushing them all-in to the center of the table anyway.
You know what? He may have another lesson for you at the end of this assignment, and it may be one that He knows is best learned by abject failure. Do you trust Him? Are you willing? You have a choice.
Whether you have a lot or a little to your name, fact is you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, because God is still real and His promises are still true — the same as when you were young and reckless, and the world was yours for the taking. He doesn’t change. Have you let the world change you?
It may be a relationship, or a business venture, or taking your ministry in a radical new direction. Whatever it is the Lord is calling you to do, the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt ring true: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
(And fear by any other name is just as bad.)
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Holding you, I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I the king
But if I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say, you know I might have changed it all
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance
— From “The Dance” by Garth Brooks
Don’t let the fear of pain keep you on the sidelines when God calls you back to the dance floor.
My heart aches for the multitudes of strong, capable, faithful people who limp along, bound up in traditions, believing that’s the only way we can walk.
It reminds me a portion of the movie Forrest Gump. As a child, young Forrest’s mother was told he had a spine ailment, and that wearing metal leg braces – “magic shoes” – would correct his condition. The boy grew up resigned to accepting the hindrances of the clunky, unnatural superstructure. The prosthetics held him back from so much, forced him to adopt all kinds of odd habits to get through his day, and caused him to be an outcast.
Like young Forrest, the enemy, the patterns of this world, our traditions, and our own insecurity tell us the Body needs a man-made support structure to function. Our prescribed “magic shoes” include “church” buildings, pyramid-shaped organizational charts, central coordinating committees, designated clergy, pre-set “service” times and formats, one-size-fits-all orations that pass for real teaching, pre-fab “programs,” and all the other things we generally think of today when we say “church.”
None of these things were practiced or implemented by Christ or the early apostles. They knew the health, strength and growth of the Body, as God intends, is only hindered by such things. Jesus spoke vehemently against them, and they were anathema to the Apostle Paul.
Yet somehow, over time, we have bought into the diagnosis that we are crippled and incapable of functioning without these unnecessary, man-made prostheses – to the extent that we think real life as the Body of Christ is impossible without them.
And, like Forrest, as a result, we have resigned to accepting the hindrances of the clunky, unnatural superstructure we call “church” – even though it holds us back from so much, forces us to adopt all kind of odd habits to function, and causes us to be increasingly outcast from the very people we are supposed to be serving.
A moving scene in the movie is when Forrest is walking home from school with his friend, Jennie, and a group of bullies begins mocking and throwing stuff at him. It is clear they wish to beat him up, so Jenny shouts, “Run, Forrest, run!” – and he takes off down the dirt road, waddling awkwardly in his brackets, chased by the bike-riding bullies. As they get close to overtaking him, the brackets fall off his legs, and Forrest is finally able to outrun his pursuers.
“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but I could run like the wind blows,” says the older Forrest, narrating the story. “And from that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running.”
I just watched that movie clip online to research for this message, and found myself moved to tears in two different places. At the beginning, they were tears of sadness, because having seen the movie before, I knew the true capabilities that Forrest possessed. Beneath his unwittingly self-inflicted shackles, he was strong and able. He just didn’t know it – and so he just accepted the handicap and bullying as par for the course. It didn’t have to be that way!
These are the same tears I, with Christ, shed for our brothers and sisters who are so bound up and blinded by churchianity that they cannot accept any other way of functioning. I don’t care how big and popular their “church” is – compared to the glory and magnitude of the Kingdom Come, every single one of them has resigned to marginalization and mediocrity, and they don’t even know it. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Because, like Forrest, the true strength of the Body of Christ is far beyond anything we can comprehend. We are called to conquer, not merely endure. We are called to manifest the full stature of Christ – the King of Kings and name above all names – on earth as it is in Heaven. We are called to establish true dominion over every aspect of this world, through the powerful attraction of the peace and love that exude from the Body of Christ when it functions properly.
The second point I cried in the clip, it was tears of joy when the braces fell off Forrest’s legs and he took off down the road like a bullet, leaving the enemies in the dust. These are the tears I, with Christ, long to cry for all our brothers and sisters who are bound up in the unwittingly self-inflicted shackles we call “church.”
Some generation, someday, will throw these braces off the Body, and when they do, we will run like the wind blows. From that day on, whenever we go anywhere, we’ll be running. Victory is our destiny!
The question is, how bad will it have to get? How much more persecution, marginalization and mocking – and “church” politics, division, conflict, woundedness and waste – will we have to put up with before we finally break from the shackles and run free in the full potential God has given us?
Let’s make this the generation! Run, my brothers and sisters, run!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I am convinced that a person can only grow as much as the grace they’re given. We lock people in boxes of expectations based on recollections of past mistakes. The greatest gift you can give a person, the greatest way you can serve them, is to give them grace and expect them to grow. This is what God gave us in Christ, and what we are to give each other. Grace gives everyone a fresh start, allows them to hit “reset” in their lives, and helps them become the new, improved person they hope to be.
Grace compels us to take a person we love at face value. Of course, trust is a different thing; it must be earned. But even so, grace takes risks to allow them to earn it! Grace erases the negatives in the trust account, and allows them to start fresh, every single time they slip. Under grace, every day is a new day.
The Bible says that God is working to make us perfect; we won’t get there in this life, but we get closer every day if we let Him lead the way. Grace compels us to realize that our brother is NOT the same person you used to know; he is a work in progress, and progress is being made! He is more perfect than he was yesterday! Grace recognizes this, and says, “what the heck, I’ll give it a shot!”
Grace doesn’t seek to save face. Instead, it recognizes that we ourselves are being made perfect, each and every day. I am a better person than I was yesterday. I made mistakes and hurt people I love. I admit and repent of those things; I don’t make excuses for them. Please, don’t lock me down with the expectation that I will repeat those those bad things today; your grace will set me free to grow.
It really isn’t rocket science. Heck, the HARD thing is to keep track of all the details of who did what to whom. Keeping accounts of who needs to apologize for what, laying blame, and trying to remember “why was I mad at her to begin with?” will do nothing but tie you up in knots. That’s the trap of the enemy. Forgiving, accepting personal responsibility, hitting “reset,” starting over, giving grace – while it’s not natural in our flesh – is actually the easiest thing to do. It allows us to keep a clear mind, a clean slate, and a light load.
With grace, every day is an adventure, full of pleasant surprises. Sure, we’ll hit some rocks in the road, but when we don’t stop to pick them up, they’re just minor bumps on an otherwise peaceful drive.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
The Bible says the Body of Christ is supposed to function under His headship, and be knit together by what every ligament supplies. It says we all have a role to play, and that it won’t work right until we do. It says it’s the saints’ job, in general, to do the work of ministry, and the leaders’ jobs to equip them, and not the other way around. It says God is giving to the Church “first the apostle, then the prophet.” That said …
What if the prophet of God is artsy, has long hair, and talks with a stutter? The one God has given the gift of clear Spiritual sight, and to whom He reveals the plans of heaven, has been beaten down emotionally all his life because he’s “odd” and so can’t bring himself to speak up during the organized, orderly Sunday Morning ceremony, and has never been invited to participate in “church” leadership?
What if the one called and gifted as an apostle has an MBA and left the organized “church” years ago because his gifts were unwelcome? Apostles, in the model God intends – the ones He says should be first in the Kingdom lineup – simply don’t fit well in the stiff, pyramid structures of todays “churches.” Just a little too passionate to sit quietly and play “nice” in the face of stubborn ignorance, I guess.
What if the smartest person in the congregation is a geek? The one with the gift of healing is a shut in? The one with faith that can move mountains smells bad because she has 100 cats? The deliverance warrior who can face demons head-on never sat through “membership” class because he finds the Sunday “sermons” to be like watching Barney reruns?
What if God gives a revelatory word to a child, or a divine vision to a newly recovering alcoholic?
What if God is calling a body of believers to do something the IRS would consider “for profit” (like make tents, or own a fishing company, as early apostles did), and so the “church council” is aghast at the very idea? (The infamous BTK serial killer was a respected member his “church council,” remember.)
What if we as a body defined our “religious service” as a ceremony we conduct on Sunday mornings, instead of as God does – and that is, rolling up our sleeves, working up a sweat, and giving sacrificially to help those in need?
What if we defined “worship” as singing? What if we thought “church” was a building, or a defined organizational structure, or a set time of meeting? (If you’ve sat for years during “worship service” in the same row with a person, and you don’t know the most intimate details of their life, you don’t know their true giftedness, and you’re not sowing into each other’s lives on a regular basis, then you can call that place a lot of things, but don’t call it a Church, because God sure doesn’t.)
What if the founder of our denomination or congregation was indeed called by God for a reason and a season, but because of our way of doing things, he went further and solidified his position for the long term through a formal legal, organizational or theological structure? What if the person wielding his positional authority today was selected by an appointed or elected committee, for who-knows-what real reasons?
What if the guy with a “seminary” degree and “ordination” certificate went that route because he was a failure at everything else, or because his fiancée wanted to be a “pastor’s wife”? They’re out there, I know them personally (you probably do, too, unawares), and today they’re good little “pastors” at nice little “churches.” (Not surprisingly, they’re often the first ones to claim that God stopped calling apostles and prophets 2,000 years ago … and the sheep just follow along out of empty, dangerous tradition, because “pastor said so, and he’s ordained.”)
Seriously, what if the nice, charming guy who is decent at administration and who is a great public speaker and fundraiser is really not the one God wants calling the shots? Those are gifts of a politician, not a shepherd. Yet our model of “churchianity” has thrust them to the top.
What if there is a growing body of passionate, faithful, mature brothers and sisters who are truly led by the Spirit, and who regularly gather with other believers to serve each other and advance the Kingdom, yet … they sleep in on Sunday mornings (to obey God’s command to take a real day of rest each week) … they don’t ever enter a steeple-topped building … they can’t stomach listening to the weekly McSermon … they don’t recognize the Spiritual authority of a man who claims it simply because he holds a man-made title and “ordination,” and … they don’t belong to one of the Christian country clubs that man calls “church”? (Darn back-door losses! What is this world coming to?)
I don’t have to ask “what if” for any of these questions, because this is the reality we live in today.
No wonder Christ is increasingly mocked and marginalized in the world. Look what we consider to be His “body” today!
No wonder we’ve lost our influence in the culture. We can’t even influence our own selves to clearly discern and be obedient to His Word, because “the old wine tastes better.”
No wonder we have to fake out folks with a Sunday morning rock concert and stirring motivational speech just to get them to join our “church.” We don’t offer them much else anymore.
No wonder youth ministry today is typically little more than cheap, worldly, “cool,” entertainment with the name of Jesus occasionally slipped in when it’s not too creepy. We simply don’t understand the fact that their deepest desire is to be real, because we ourselves don’t know what real is.
No wonder the most popular “pastors” are either tradition-bound, toothless types who don’t want to shake things up, or prosperity hustlers who encourage their flock to live it up in the here and now. Give ‘em what they want, because what they really need might make them uncomfortable.
No wonder the general consensus among Christians today is that our best hope is for Jesus to come back soon and take us home, in some heretical idea of a sudden “rapture.” Kingdom victory is why we’re here. It’s our God-given assignment and destiny. But with today’s churchianity model, it’s simply not going to be possible.
“It is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Ephesians 5:14-17
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
If you keep up with my blog, you know that lately God has been doing some serious re-wiring of my mind, especially in the area of “leadership.” I’ve come to realize that the modern idea of a leader – by definition “the guiding head of an organization” – is not a role any person is called to play. Instead, God desires that we come under the headship of Christ and allow Him to call the shots, through His Holy Spirit. God certainly does call coordinators, instigators, administrators and agitators from time to time, but every Biblical example of this shows these people are to serve for a reason and a season, under step-by-step direction from God, and they are not to solidify their authority or seek to hold onto it beyond the term of their specific project.
This is 180 degrees contrary to the way we have built “churchianity” today. As a Body (or, rather, as a widely fragmented assortment of “church bodies”), we have chosen a “leadership” model which is nothing like what God desires, where we designate a flesh-and-blood man to serve as the “head” of our congregation, most often under the authority of a voting board of directors.
When the Israelites, in rebellion against God, demanded an earthly king, their stated reasons for wanting one were: 1) so they could be like all the other nations, 2) to judge them, 3) to go out before (represent and guide) them, and 4) to fight their battles for them. If you get to the heart of it, this is exactly why we subscribe to the traditional “churchianity” leadership structure today – and we do it unashamedly.
Sadly, for the vast majority of Christians, this man-made, not-God-pleasing organizational structure is the very definition of “church” – even though it has absolutely nothing with that word as God defines it! For them, anything else simply is not “church.”
Along with my posts I have recently had several good conversations on this topic, some with folks who are staunch defenders of the status quo. Often, when they run out of Biblical legs to stand on (because there IS nothing in the Bible that justifies the status quo) they turn to the practical and ask, “so…what do you propose as an alternative?”
My answer is this: It’s something we haven’t seen on this earth in more than 1700 years, and it’s so far outside our frame of reference that a lot of folks will throw stones and say, “that’s not church!” (Remember, Jesus said, “the old wine tastes better.”) At the same time, I believe God will lean forward on His throne with a smile and, looking down, say, “Aaaah, finally someone is starting to get it again!”
True ekklesia/koinoneia (the Greek words we translate as “church”) is nothing more than a deep, intimate fellowship of those who are called out by God to advance His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It was called The Way by the earliest Christians, and it is a “religion” without ceremony, or professional clergy, or dedicated assets, or a specific meeting time, or a mailing address. Instead, it is a bottom-up, inside-out, Spirit-led movement with the power to transform individuals, families and whole communities.
It is a growing family of people who have a personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, who frequently gather in each other’s homes to praise Him and report on His daily interactions with them, who bond together to serve each other so that nobody in the family lacks anything, and who freely pool all their earthly resources to truly serve those in need.
True Church, as God intends it, is fully under the headship of Christ. What I mean by this is that each and every member has a personal connection with His Holy Spirit, and receives their direction from Him alone. They each recognize their God-given giftedness, and give it fully to each other, so that the Body is infinitely stronger than the sum of its parts. (Yes, administration – as in, serving the Body by coordinating efforts – is a lesser spiritual gift, but that does not justify building all our “church” structure around this single function, as we have.)
And so, when I’m talking with folks who have asked this question, this is where they tend to jump in and say, “You can’t really believe that, can you? That sounds like utter chaos to me! People most definitely DO need an earthly leader … otherwise, what’s to keep them all from going different directions?” (Very similar to the Israelite reasons Nos. 2 and 3 for demanding a king, wouldn’t you say?)
Bingo! This is where the heart of the issue lies. It’s all about trusting God! You see, I, for one, have never seen the Spirit of God contradict Himself. If He gives me a direction, and He wants us to work together, then He’s going to give you the same direction. God is not the author of confusion!
If we are doing our job, and helping our brothers and sisters grow closer to Him and discern His Living Word – and if we truly have a real relationship with God ourselves – then we simply must trust that He knows what He’s doing. “His sheep know His voice,” by the way, and “whoever is led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” This is what we’re supposed to be all about!
The next issue that comes up is, “well, how are we going to pay for all that, anyway? If everyone is off doing what they think God wants them to do, it’d be very expensive!” Are you kidding me? You really asked that? So 1) you DON’T think people should do what God directs them to do because it might be beyond the “church” budget, and 2) if they do seek to be obedient to His calling, you question God’s ability to pay for it all? Last I checked, it was Jesus Himself who told us to seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, and that if we do, God will provide everything we need and then some. I, for one, believe that His Word is true!
I hate to say it but it’s inescapable: For someone to throw out these issues as reasons not to pursue The Way of true Spirit-led fellowship makes me question whether they truly know the leading of the Spirit themselves. If they truly knew His personal voice, trusted His profound promises, and experienced His divine provision, then they would passionately want others to experience this Way of life for themselves, and would not be afraid that “it won’t work.”
Sadly, these objections have come to me mainly from those who have a vested interested in preserving the status quo. I’d chuckle at the irony, but it’s really not that ironic when you think about it. Makes perfect sense, really.
As for resources, why should a “church” settle for trying to squeeze 10% (with the average being much less than that) out of its members? When the early Church followed The Way, they literally received 100% from those who were involved – they sold all they had and pooled it to keep advancing His Kingdom! And the Lord added to their number daily!
If we want Book of Acts results in our world today, we need to do it The Way they did back then. God’s been waiting a long time for us to get it. What are WE waiting for?
Yes, it’ll be a big adventure. Yes, we’ll be forging into the great unknown. But I, for one, trust our Guide. Do you?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
God’s had me write a mountain of stuff over many years, and yet He has had me keep much of it on the shelf. Now that I’m doing this blog thing, occasionally He prompts me to pull something out of the archives and post it. This is one such post. I felt called this morning to get up early for the specific purpose of posting this; I pray whoever it supposed to be on the reading end got up early, too!
“Pastor” is a word inserted in only one verse of English translations of the Bible for the word translated elsewhere as shepherd. There is no job description in the Bible for a pastor, and there are no men with that title written about. Where it is used in English translations, it is listed as a spiritual gifting, not a profession. It does not mean priest, preacher, spiritual father, administrator, a guy with a seminary degree, ordination certificate, special robe or collar, or anything like that.
The actual word “pastor” is entirely man-made. In the dark ages, Catholic leaders began to speak of the “pastoral” (a fancy word for shepherding) duties of a priest. Eventually this word evolved into a job title of “pastor.” When the early English translators were working on the New Testament and came to the Ephesians 4:11 where it lists the spiritual gifting of various leadership positions – where it says, “some are given to be …” – they came to the word meaning “shepherd” and just stuck the man-made title in its place – working backwards in an effort to incorporate a specifically defined manmade job title into the Word of God.
Man, not God, through centuries of evolutionary, institutionalized tradition, first made up the role and title of “pastor,” and then it was stuck into the Bible in place of the word for shepherd. No one in the Bible is “given to be a pastor” as the word is generally used by man (that is, a degreed and licensed “preacher” who answers to a committee or board, who officiates ceremonial “services,” and who is the center of attention in institutionalized gathering of folks who go by the label of Christian). Instead, they were given to be shepherds of God’s people.
Even for that there is no job description, although two men are shown as having “shepherding” responsibilities in the New Testament. Both these men, James and Timothy, were actually apostles (James appointed by Jesus and Timothy apprenticed by Paul). So even then their titles weren’t “shepherd” – but rather, helping shepherd God’s people was just one of their many responsibilities. People in those days knew what a shepherd is – a man who lives with the sheep, makes sure each one individually is healthy, fed, groomed, safe from harm, together with the flock, etc. A shepherd is a lowly, hands-on, down-in-the-dirt servant of the flock in intensely personal ways – he exists to support them, not the other way around.
Only God can give the spiritual gift. Virtually everything the word pastor conjures up in our modern mind is entirely contrived by man. Only a man whom God has specifically appointed to the job of shepherd by personal gifting and calling (not through a bureaucratic or democratic “call” process) is a “pastor” (if we insist on calling it that) in God’s eyes. How many are there in the world today for real? I think everyone would be shocked. There are many who faithfully stand behind the pulpit and honestly preach the Bible, who hold a position of authority in a congregation, who have all the right paperwork … whom God looks at longingly and says, “Son, what are you doing there?” There are also many who drive trucks or herd cattle or polish fingernails or sell cars for a living who are called and gifted to be true shepherds as God intends, but who rightly don’t feel called to go to some man-made seminary – and so they feel they can never step into the role God ordained for them. They are ordained by God but will never be by man. They are called and gifted, but the systems we’ve built won’t let them serve as God desires.
It is also important to point out that, in God’s eyes, true “pastors” take their place alongside apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers. The Bible says that the Lord is giving men to serve in these roles until we all reach maturity and grow up into Christ who is the Head. We’re a long way from that happening, so there are still apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers in our midst, alongside true shepherds, but our culture and organizational structures don’t accommodate them. (Apostle, by the way, means one who is sent, with connotations of a military leader on a mission to conquer.) God is sitting on the edge of His throne, holding His breath, feeling like He’s just going to pop, waiting for us to finally get it.
Please hear my heart. I know and thank God for the fact that there are genuine spiritual shepherds who go by the title of pastor today who faithfully walk in their God-given spiritual giftedness and calling. I have met many. They are fantastic men of God who truly know God’s purpose for their lives and have pursued it faithfully. They lead their sheep as they themselves are led by the Holy Spirit, to God’s great delight. I admire and honor them.
As I stated previously, because the written Word is so vague on how the spiritual gift of shepherding is to be put into practice, it is necessary for one to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit to walk the path the Lord has set out for him. The way this works in a given shepherd’s life may bear a close resemblance to the man-made job description, and may compel him to serve in that which man calls “church.” Certainly God in His infinite grace desires for those people who are trapped by tradition to still hear His truth and be ministered to – in fact, I believe He is stirred especially greatly for this, as these people are just so close – and He leads men to serve Him obediently by speaking the truth and ministering to people in that setting. For a man to truly serve in that capacity in our world today, he generally must walk in the man-made system and title. That said, for this specific “filling in the blanks,” as with any other, to be truly from God, it must be prompted step-by-step by His Holy Spirit for each individual. When these blanks are filled in by anything else, whether tradition, expectations, ignorance … anything but divine revelation – there is no auto pilot, cruise control or back-seat driving that can keep us on God’s path – then it gives the enemy a wide-open field in which to manipulate and wreak havoc.
Once again, I’ve met men with the title of pastor who are truly called, trained and ordained, by God first, and then by man, for that role. I’ve also met many who make a living under that title and man-made job description – called, trained and ordained by man alone – yet it is clearly not their true, God-ordained purpose in life. (And some are so mixed up by the difference between God’s way and man’s, they may not rightly know!) I personally know a man who became a pastor because his fiancée wanted to be a pastor’s wife! That’s no joke. He’s “leading” a congregation now – certainly through the motions of churchianity – but how can a man who has never found his true identity actually lead anyone to anything? That is the blind leading the blind. How many others do so out of family tradition, or because it’s a good living doing something “meaningful,” or because they didn’t feel cut out for the dog-eat-dog world of the marketplace, or because they believe it’s their only avenue to serving God vocationally, or some other equally “valid” but not Spirit-led reason?
I am absolutely certain these men love God and are passionate about Him, serving Him with all their heart, soul and mind. But it’s important to realize that Paul, before the Road to Damascus – when he was still known as Saul and actively persecuting followers of Christ – was not a bad man at heart. He deeply loved God and was serving Him passionately. But he was stuck in a system that had drifted away from God’s meanings, and thus drifted away from the true, intimate, revealed knowledge of Him. The system he was in had become the old wineskin so couldn’t accept the freshness of the Living God, and actually condemned those who lived in it. When Saul met Jesus personally, face to face, the scales fell from his eyes, he could finally see through spiritual eyes of true faith – and the world would never be the same!
I pray passionately that men out there who are modern day Sauls – passionate and sincere men of God, every one of them, but stuck in an old wineskin – will finally, truly meet Christ face to face (and not in some mystical, “religious” sense!). When they do, the world will never be the same!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
God has taken me far and wide in His service. I’ve been blessed to spend time in remote villages in Brazil and Honduras, the streets of Paris and London, big cities and rural villages in Tanzania and Nigeria, and communities all across America, including a recent mission trip with a group of young people to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. I’ve dined in the Ritz in Paris and a thatch-roofed hut in a village that had never before been visited by an outsider. I’ve sat behind Billy Graham’s private desk and behind natives in dugout canoes; preached in opulent American sanctuaries and an overcrowded Third World prison; jetted in First Class and been sandwiched in rundown, foreign taxicabs. And along the way, I’ve been privileged to get to know presidents, governors, celebrities and billionaires … and indigents, addicts, lepers and hardened criminals.
Even as I write this, recounting these adventures feels like watching Forrest Gump share his life story. I never set out to travel or to experience all that I have; it’s only by God’s grace and good pleasure that I’ve witnessed so much of this world and met so many interesting people. Along the way, I’ve done my best to extract every bit of knowledge and wisdom from these experiences, and now I feel burdened to share as much as I can of what I’ve learned with others.
In my missionary travels, one thing I’ve seen over and over again is the tragic disconnect of American elitism. Don’t get me wrong – I’m proud to be an American, and I am thankful for our nation’s relative freedom, security, prosperity and Godly heritage. But sadly, it seems we American Christians – and the people we seek to reach – are deceived into thinking our material prosperity is somehow akin to godliness. It’s like everyone thinks we have it all figured out, and that our ways are the best ways, in every way. As a result, folks around the world tend to be drawn to us like moths to a flame. They generally come with their hands out, and we’re generally way too eager to fill them with stuff – and then consider our missionary work done.
Our money. Our technology. Our buildings. The way we do “church.” All these are craved by the “have nots,” who tend to think, like a cow straining for the “greener” grass on the other side of the fence, that material things and empty religion hold any real value.
Let me tell you, it’s true. The first thing you notice when you visit an impoverished area of the world – including here within our own borders – is all the things they lack that we take for granted. But if you spend enough time there, you begin to see the opposite – the things they take for granted that we lack. And when you step back and look at it all in perspective, you find that, in every important way, we’ve got our whole value system upside down. Because the society the world calls “rich” is one of the most impoverished in the world in the things that matter most – and the “poor” of this world are some of the wealthiest in every important way.
I just got back from a 3-week trip to Southern Nigeria. It is very similar to the other Third World countries I’ve visited. Every Christian I spoke with there has experienced and witnessed countless, authentic miracles. Try finding a mainstream American Christian who has seen one. The people in their “poor” culture put God first, value family, honor their elders, crave knowledge, walk with dignity and respect, and work tenaciously for a better tomorrow. (I visited a large, public, state university, and you know what? In every possible way, it was more of a Christian school than any “Christian” school I’ve ever seen in America!)
Sadly, these are mainly far-out, abstract “ideals” for Americans – and no longer the bedrock values upon which our culture is built.
And even sadder, they seem to think that if only we could be more like America, then everything will all be better.
Yet saddest of all is that we tend to think the same way, too! So our missionary goal is to export “Americanism” – the worship of stuff; the pursuit of physical comfort and stimulation above all else; the hollow sensational, showmanship of our churchianity.
Sometimes I feel like screaming, “STOP! We’ve got it all wrong!” We’re the ones who need missionaries from there! We need to go there with our ears open and lips closed. THEY have what WE need, and not the other way around!
In my most recent mission trips, some simple truths have begun to crystallize in my mind. Everywhere I go, and everyone I meet, all share the same needs – and the same solution to their ills:
No matter who they are, their potential is inborn. It’s not something you or I can give them; it is a gift of God alone. Every single human being has the opportunity to be adopted as a full offspring and heir of the Creator and King of the Universe. They have royal blood and birthright! The very best thing we can do is simply recognize that in them. How do you recognize royalty? With honor and respect! These – nothing more, and nothing less – are the keys to unlocking their full potential. They cost us nothing, and yet we tend to find them the hardest to give.
Our Provider is their Provider, too. There’s not one thing you can give them that God can’t give them better and more abundantly. The same promise applies to them as to you: If they seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, He will give them everything they need, every single day. Of course, if God puts on your heart to give something – money or other – do it joyfully, only give credit where it’s due, and don’t go beyond His leading. Just remember, they don’t need another thing, they need the King! Introduce them, and He’ll take it from there!
They sure as heck don’t need to be indoctrinated into our traditions. Their unique way of doing “church” – whether it be through dancing to drums, or seemingly chaotic celebrations, or praying in sweat lodges – so long as it’s Christ-centered and Spirit led – may very well be superior to what you and I have come to call “church.” Once again, open your ears and close your mouth. You may very well learn something. If our forefathers had done this, our world would be a brighter place today.
Peace, joy and love are fruits of the Spirit, not byproducts of any material things. And they’re contagious! Just walk the path the Lord lays before you, step by step, and these things will be manifest in and around you.
Their best path forward is the one led by the Spirit. It’s not according to the “American Way,” because, as a nation, we’ve lost our way. Introduce them to the Father through the Son, and help them hear the voice of the Spirit, and you’ll be equipping them for an incredible destiny.
The best thing of all is, you don’t need to be rich, or eloquent, or brave to forever change the world. You don’t even need to be far from home. Don’t let your abundance — or your lack! – get in the way. Wherever you’re from, and whatever you have, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). And when all is said and done, that’s all that really matters.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
The other day I wrote about the possibility of using our established “church” infrastructure to actually advance God’s Kingdom the way He intends. This would require a 180 degree turnaround, and could only come about as a result of a wholesale paradigm shift among congregational members and leaders.
This is not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. I do believe the hearts of most “church”-goers are in the right place. It’s just that 1700 years of tradition have led us, gradually, in a direction that is far from what Christ instituted. Yet the Glory of God is that no matter how far we stray, His path is always just one step away. If we open our eyes and ears to His Spirit, and let Him lead us the right way, things will change, dramatically, overnight.
Today I want to invite you to daydream with me about what this might look like.
In the business world, there’s a well-understood concept known as fiduciary responsibility. A person who holds fiduciary responsibility – like a trustee, or a member of a board of directors – is legally obligated to seek the very best interests of the stakeholders. In a for-profit entity, this means maximizing financial return on investment for the owners.
Most congregations have trustees, or a church council, or elders, or a pastor, who hold this stewardship. Most of these folks, I’m sure, sincerely exercise their fiduciary responsibility to the best of their abilities. But from my observation, it seems that most of them do so with the wrong stakeholders in mind. What I mean is that the vast majority of “church” facilities and resources I’ve ever seen are tailored 100% to serving the interests of the congregation and “seekers” in the community, and not God.
With very few exceptions, most “church” buildings sit virtually empty most of the week – especially the auditorium, which is generally the biggest and most opulent part. And even when they are occupied, they exist mainly to serve the comfort of the membership and “seekers” (who are generally believers looking for an upgrade from another congregation).
Now consider a paradigm shift. Say the decision makers for a congregation all of a sudden realize that their sole stakeholder is Jesus Christ, and not the members and other believers in the community who are looking for a more comfortable “church home.” This should be the case, shouldn’t it?
Jesus said that whatever we do “for the least of these” we are doing for Him. And the Bible also says that “true religion” is helping widows and orphans and those in need. We are called to show people we are Christians by our lovingkindness, not our fancy stage shows, fiery oratory and pre-packaged programs, right? Being Church is about true, ongoing, around-the-clock, intimate fellowship, as we work alongside each other to serve the Lord, right?
So I ask … What if we accepted our fiduciary responsibility as the mandate to maximize every resource to do what Jesus did — that is, heal the sick, comfort the afflicted and care for those less fortunate? He discipled His followers as He served the needs of others; they worked alongside Him, step-by-step. What if our leaders truly sought to follow His lead? (Now really, why is this such a “radical” idea?)
If we did this, would our “church” buildings sit empty most of the week? Would we truly dedicate so many square feet to what is effectively an exclusive entertainment venue? Would we spend another penny on stage lights, sound systems, stained glass, organs or padded seating?
Just imagine if “Church services” once again became actual services that the Church performs around the clock – “true religion” style — instead of a newspeak euphemism for the ritualistic, weekly concert/oratory/fundraising events that today count as “church services.”
Is another weekly stage show or another “Sunday school” class really the most vital need in the community? Is that really the best use of our time, talent and treasure? Can we truly not think of a more productive thing to do with those square feet of space? Could those kilowatts of electricity not be directed to a more meaningful purpose? Is there nobody and no no cause anywhere around that needs a roof over their head, or a meal in their belly, or a shoulder to cry on? The way we currently practice “church,” we’re saying, “yes, entertaining our members in air conditioned comfort is our top priority.”
Jesus said that by our traditions we render the word of God meaningless. This is exactly what He meant! Our fiduciary responsibility to our only true stakeholder, Jesus Christ, demands that we re-evaluate this, starting from Square One. We must heed Paul’s injunction to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, and stop conforming to the patterns of this world. Then God will renew our minds, and we will be able to know His true will. Today, we are far, far from it.
With the jillions of dollars worth of facilities, huge budgets, and countless eons of man-hours invested each year, if all these were focused to truly serve Christ – the way He modeled and desires – instead of ourselves, would we have so much hunger, homelessness, brokenness and sickness in our communities? Would we even need a public welfare system, or retirement homes, or day care? Would our society be such a fragmented, painful, harsh place? I don’t think so!
Would we need to fight so hard to be “relevant” and respected in the world today (which, as we’re currently practicing “Christianity,” is a losing battle)? I don’t think so!
When we switch our view of who the real stakeholder is, and we dedicate our fiduciary responsibility to serving Him alone, our world will change for the better – immediately and dramatically. We will truly become the salt and light of the world!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!